Sustainability is the process of maintaining change in a balanced fashion, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.[1] For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social.[2] Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political.[3] While sustainable development may be the organizing principle for sustainability for some, for others, the two terms are paradoxical (i.e. development is inherently unsustainable).[4][5] Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[1] Brundtland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) introduced the term of sustainable development.

Sustainability can also be defined as a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal.[6] An ideal is by definition unattainable in a given time and space. However, by persistently and dynamically approaching it, the process results in a sustainable system.[6]

Healthy ecosystems and environments are necessary to the survival of humans and other organisms. Ways of reducing negative human impact are environmentally-friendlychemical engineeringenvironmental resources management and environmental protection. Information is gained from green computinggreen chemistryearth scienceenvironmental science and conservation biologyEcological economics studies the fields of academic research that aim to address human economies and natural ecosystems.[7]

Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national lawurban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganizing living conditions (e.g., ecovillageseco-municipalities and sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors (permaculturegreen buildingsustainable agriculture), or work practices (sustainable architecture), using science to develop new technologies (green technologiesrenewable energy and sustainable fission and fusion power), or designing systems in a flexible and reversible manner,[8][9] and adjusting individual lifestyles that conserve natural resources.[10]

"The term 'sustainability' should be viewed as humanity's target goal of human-ecosystem equilibrium (homeostasis), while 'sustainable development' refers to the holistic approach and temporal processes that lead us to the end point of sustainability." (305)[11] Despite the increased popularity of the use of the term "sustainability", the possibility that human societies will achieve environmental sustainability has been, and continues to be, questioned—in light of environmental degradationclimate changeoverconsumption, population growth and societies' pursuit of unlimited economic growth in a closed system.[12][13]


Innovation is vital to European competitiveness in the global economy. The EU is implementing policies and programmes that support the development of innovation to increase investment in research and development, and to better convert research into improved goods, services, or processes for the market.

The importance of innovation

As highlighted by EU Industrial Policy, industry is crucial for EU competitiveness and innovation is a key factor in this regard.

Industry accounts for 80% of Europe's exports. Some 65% of private sector research and development (R&D) investment comes from manufacturing.

Therefore, industrial modernisation in Europe must be broad-reaching and include:

  • the successful commercialisation of product and service innovations
  • the industrial exploitation of innovative manufacturing technologies
  • innovative business models

Studies show that those companies who prioritise innovation are also those who experience the highest increase in turnover (Innobarometer, 2014):

  • Some 79% of companies that introduced at least one innovation since 2011 experienced an increase of their turnover by more than 25% by 2014.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a particular target for innovation policy. The smaller the company is, the more it faces constraints to innovation or to the commercialisation of its innovations.

  • Some 63% of companies with between 1 and 9 employees declared having introduced at least one innovation since 2011, compared to 85% of companies with 500 employees or more.
  • Some 71% of companies with between 1 and 9 employees encountered difficultiescommercialising their innovations due to a lack of financial resources, compared to 48% of companies with 500 employees or more.

How the Commission promotes innovation

New growth opportunities come from providing new products and services from:

  • technological breakthroughs
  • new processes and business models
  • non-technological innovation and innovation in the services sector

These must be combined with creativity, flair and talent, or innovation in its broadest sense.

The latest Policy Communication (June 2014) sets out the European Commission’s priorities for innovation. In this context, Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs: